Reviewed in India on 27 November 2016
Meet Willow Chance. A 12-year old girl 'of colour' who's been adopted by as-physically different-from-her-as-possible white parents who love her with all their hearts. Willow is off-the-charts brilliant, a bit obsessive (she has an affinity for the number 7, and counts things in 7s) and very asocial. But not in a grumpy way- she has just never been able to connect with anyone in school so far. Her interests (medical science), her hobbies (gardening) and her introvert nature set her too apart from other kids. Her only real social connect is with her parents whom she loves with all the focus and concentration of her obsessive heart.
When Willow gets a perfect score in a government assessment test (in half the time), the principal assumes she has cheated and assigns her for counselling with a state-sponsored counsellor. The counsellor, Dell Duke, is incompetent, awkward, under-qualified and under-confident, which he tries to hide under a show of bluster (which has no effect on Willow). He appears to benefit more from their sessions than Willow, so Willow continues to meet him (!) Because, under her oddities and uncommunicativeness, Willow is unfailingly kind.
At Dell's office she meets Quang-Ha, another 'problem child' assigned to counselling, and his sister Mai. Mai is cool in the face of fire, quick-thinking and loyal. Willow and Mai recognise at once that they both are different from other teenagers, and become friends- of a sort.
So when Willow loses both her parents in a freak yet deadly road accident, it is Mai who spectacularly steps into the breach. Knowing that fragile, grief-stricken, silent Willow would never survive in the county children's home which is claustrophobic with locked doors and surveillance cameras, Mai gets her mother Pattie (who has never met Willow) to volunteer for taking Willow intto their home till a permanent foster home is found for Willow. Mai coolly gives Dell's address as their own address because their home- a garage behind their mother's small beauty salon, and their lifestyle- very frugal- are hardly ideal conditions to be a foster home. Mai insouciantly proposes that whenever Social Services want to do an inspection, they can just go over to Dell's house and 'pretend that they live there'. And so, when its time for the inspection, Pattie marshalls her kids and Dell into helping her convert Dell's unlivable health hazard of an apartment into a clean, well-fitted, if simple, home. And they all continue to live there, because, Pattie announces, in her usual steamroller way, that back-and-forth between homes is impossible on a weekly basis. "This is only temporary" is her only explanation, and Dell gives in without any resistance.
Thus comes together a very strange family group- dysfunctional, each with their own problems, but united by their common concern/love for Willow. As they start living together as a family, each one benefits from being part of this unusual arrangement. Together, under Willow's guidance, they even revamp the barren courtyard of the apartment block into a blazing field of bright yellow sunflowers. Though all these little fledgling bonds of love and family are "only temporary"- because, eventually, Willow will be placed in a permanent foster family.
Can this crazy patchwork family hold together? Will Willow have to say goodbye, once again, to a family she has grown to love, because life, as Willow puts it, is "a minefield where any step can blow you up" ? Read the book to know the ending. :)
This book teaches us the very important lesson that it takes all kinds if people to make this world, and someone who is 'different' should not be judged for being so, because each of us has our own story that makes us who we are. Highly recommended for kids aged 12 and up.
A longer review of the book with more detailed descriptions and character profiles is posted on my blog, at: